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Al-Huruf al-Muqatta'a

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Al-ḥurūf al-muqaṭṭaʿa (Arabic: الحروف المقطعة) or disjoined letters consist of one or more letters with which twenty nine suras of the Qur'an open after Bism Allah al-Rahman al-Rahim. These letters are recited separately, such as ألم at the opening of Qur'an 2 is recited as "alif – lam – mim."

Except suras of al-Baqara (Qur'an 2) and Al 'Imran (Qur'an 3), all other suras opening with disjoined letters are Makki (they were revealed in Mecca). Some of the suras opening with disjoined letters include: Qur'an 7 (al-A'raf), Qur'an 10 (Yunus), Qur'an 12 (Hud), Qur'an 19 (Maryam), Qur'an 20 (Taha), Qur'an 28 (Qisas), Qur'an 40 (Ghafir), and Qur'an 68 (Qalam).

The first verse of Qur'an 19 is Muqatta'a letter

Scholars and researchers of the Qur'an have offered different interpretations of the disjoined letters and written independent books and essays about them. According to Allama Tabataba'i, the disjoined letters are secrets between God and the Prophet (s), and so no one knows about them except the Prophet (s). Such an account of the disjoined letters appears in a hadith from Imam al-Sadiq (a) as well. These letters are also interpreted as signs of the miracle of the Qur'an, God's Greatest Name, and so on.

Introduction

The disjoined letters consist in one or more letters with which twenty nine suras of the Qur'an open after Basmala. They are recited separately, such as ألم (alif – lam – mim), یس (ya – sin), ص (sad). They are also called "muqatta'at" (the disjoined) and "fawatih al-suwar" (openings of the suras).

Suras opening with such letters are all Makki, except Qur'an 2 and Qur'an 3, which were revealed in early years after the migration of Muslims to Medina. According to Kufi enumeration of Quranic verses, which is transmitted from Imam Ali b. Abi Talib (a), the disjoined letters are independent verses in some suras, and are parts of a verse in others.

These letters consist in:

Disjoined letters in Qur'an
Line Name of Sura Disjoined letters Line Name of Sura Disjoined letters Line Name of Sura Disjoined letters
1 al-Baqara Alif, Lam, Mim 11 Taha Ta Ha! 21 Ghafir Ha, Meem
2 Al Imran Alif, Lam, Mim 12 al-Shu'ara' Ta, Seen, Meem 22 Fussilat Ha, Meem
3 al-A'raf Alif, Lam, Mim, Suad 13 al-Naml Ta, Seen 23 Shura Ha, Meem, ‘Ayn, Seen, Qaf
4 Yunus Alif, Lam, Ra 14 al-Qasas Ta, Seen, Meem 24 al-Zukhruf Ha, Meem
5 Hud Alif, Lam, Ra 15 al-'Ankabut Alif, Lam, Mim 25 al-Dukhan Ha, Meem
6 Yusuf Alif, Lam, Ra 16 al-Rum Alif, Lam, Mim 26 al-Jathiya Ha, Meem
7 al-Ra'd Alif, Lam, Mim, Ra 17 Luqman Alif, Lam, Mim 27 al-Ahqaf Ha, Meem
8 Ibrahim Alif, Lam, Ra 18 al-Sajda Alif, Lam, Mim 28 Qaf Qaf
9 al-Hijr Alif, Lam, Ra 19 Yasin Ya Seen! 29 al-Qalam Nun
10 Maryam Kaf, Ha, Ya, ‘Ayn, Suad 20 Sad Suad

Different Interpretations

Quranic scholars and researchers have offered different interpretations and accounts of the disjoined letters. Moreover, independent books were written about such letters, such as al-Huruf al-muqatta'a fi l-Qur'an by Abd al-Jabbar Sharara, Awa'il al-suwar fi l-Qur'an al-karim by Ali Nasuh Tahir, and I'jaz-i Qur'an: tahlil-i āmāri-yi huruf-i muqatta'a (the miracle of the Qur'an: a statistical analysis of the disjoined letters) by Rashad Khalifa. However, some Muslim scholars appeal to certain hadiths to show that such letters are secrets of which only God is aware, and thus, they refrain from any comments on the disjoined letters.

The disjoined letters are variously interpreted as a secret between God and the Prophet (s), ambiguous (mutashabihat) parts of the dignified Qur'an, names of the suras, letters of oath, signs of the miracle of the Qur'an, God's Greatest Name, and devices for alerting, among other things. According to Ibn al-Hajar al-Asqalani, since there is no reliable report of the companion ever asking the Prophet (s) about the disjoined letters, one might conclude that their meaning was obvious and undeniable for them. However, according to Allama Tabataba'i, the above interpretations are not valid, because they do not go beyond speculations and are not supported by evidence.

  • A secret between God and the Prophet (s): some scholars, such as Allama Tabataba'i and Sayyid Mahmud Taliqani, believe that the disjoined letters are secrets between God and the Prophet (s), that God has concealed from others. The view is attributed to Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq (a).
  • Mutashabihat (ambiguities) of the Qur'an: al-Fakhr al-Razi and al-Suyuti, Sunni scholars, believe that the disjoined letters are ambiguities of the Qur'an of which only God is aware. This is confirmed by some hadiths transmitted by Shiite muhaddiths as well.
  • Names of Suras: according to Shiite and Sunni exegetes, such as al-Shaykh al-Tusi, al-Tabrisi, and al-Suyuti, the disjoined letters are names of the suras. Thus, titles of suras are the disjoined letters with which they open with. The view is deemed the best account of the disjoined letters by al-Shaykh al-Tusi and al-Tabrisi. It is also attributed to Zayd b. Aslam as well as Khalil b. Ahmad and Sibawayh.
  • Letters of oath: according to Ibn 'Abbas and 'Ikrima, the disjoined letters are letters of oath, believing that God has taken an oath to these letters which are His own names. Al-Suyuti has justified the account with a hadith from Imam Ali (a) in which he addresses God by saying, "O kaf-ha-ya-'ayn-sad کهیعص, forgive me!"
  • A sign of the miracle of the Qur'an: one of the oldest and best-known interpretations of the disjoined letters is that God has opened twenty nine suras of the Qur'an with these letters to imply that the Qur'an is made up of the same letters with which other Arabs talk, and if they believe that the Qur'an is not a miracle, then they should bring something like the Qur'an with these same letters. The view appears in some Shiite texts as well. It was favored by Sayyid Qutb, a Sunni scholar.
  • God's Greatest Name: according to Quranic exegetes of the early years of Islam, Ibn Mas'ud and Ibn 'Abbas, these letters are God's Greatest Name. Sa'id b. Jubayr believed that the disjoined letters are God's names which are disjoined. The view is attributed to some Imams of the Shia as well.
  • Alerting devices: according to some people, each of the disjoined letters function as alerting devices (just like "hey" or "look" in English). Thus, since polytheists would turn away from the Qur'an and not listen to it or make noises when the Qur'an was recited, God opened certain suras with disjoined letters to attract their attentions, alert them, make them silent, and motivate them to listen to the Qur'an. It was objected why ordinary alerting devices in Arabic (such as "ala" or "ama") were not used, instead. Proponents of the view respond to the objection by saying that the Qur'an is a word dissimilar to human words. Thus, it opened with unordinary alerting devices to make the effect more profound.
  • Numerical interpretation: some Quranic exegetes take the disjoined letters to be signs with symbolic meanings based on the numerical values of Arabic letters, known as "abjad numerals" (in Arabic, "'add abi jad" or "hisab al-jumal"). Influenced by the Jews, they tried to offer numerical interpretations of the disjoined letters in order to predict when governments were established or fell, how long ethnicities and groups would last, and in particular, how long the Islamic nation would last. To reject such interpretations, Ibn al-Hajar al-'Asqalani appeal to Ibn 'Abbas's prohibition of abjad numerals as a kind of magic, not based in the Shari'a.

References